“Willie Chaffeur” vs. Tommie Horseman” — earliest automobiles on Winnipeg’s streets

by Bruce Cherney

“Fetch the police!” shouted someone from among the angry crowd gathered to view the accident.

“Pull the chauffeur out of his machine,” cried out another, which was quickly followed by a strong appeal to keep the young driver from fleeing the scene.

“The long-expected had happened,” said the August 1, 1903, Winnipeg Morning Telegram. “An automobile has run down a cyclist while the motor was rounding a corner on the wrong side of the street at a high rate of speed.”

The driver was the young son of Alexander McIntyre. At the time of the accident, the driver’s father was a passenger in the automobile. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon of July 31, 1903, McIntyre’s son was driving down the “wrong side of the street and going at a lively clip,” when he hit a boy named Harold Laidlaw riding a bicycle going in the same direction. Apparently McIntyre’s son was attempting to turn from Main Street onto McDermot Avenue when he struck the bicyclist. While Laidlaw was not seriously hurt, his bicycle “wheel was twisted into scrap iron.”

Among the first to arrive at the scene of the accident was Winnipeg Alderman Gibson who said it was a disgraceful affair. He vowed to bring up an automobile bylaw at the next meeting of the city’s board of works.

Alderman Barclay said “the pace at which automobiles turn corners on the wrong side of the street was remarkable,” according to the Telegram, “and he fully expected to hear of many similar affairs before the bylaw is passed.”

The aldermen and those in the crowd referred to McIntyre’s automobile as the “Yellow Devil.” Their personification of the motorized vehicle involved in the city’s very first automobile accident aptly demonstrated the extent of their anger.

Automobiles, the technological marvel of the era, were a relatively new phenomenon and thus few in number on Winnipeg’s streets. As a new technology, some regarded the horseless carriage with awe, while others felt it was a menace to public safety and a threat to the sedate pace of everyday life. 

The individuality of automobile ownership in turn-of-the-century North America challenged the general concept of existing travel. At the time, mass transit was the rule with electric streetcars and electric- or steam-driven interurbans (transit connecting adajcent towns and municipalities to the city) plying Winnipeg’s streets. For the most part, private transportation involved horse and buggy and this leisurely mode of getting about  had remained unchanged for decades.

Even the intrusion of bicycles, the other new technological marvel, had not directly challenged the prominence of horse and rig. But, the advent of the exhaust-belching automobile and the attractiveness of the personal freedom it offered — horses were labour intensive and costly to feed — was a sign that there was about to be an irrevocable change in the way people got from point A to B.

Although automobiles were a new technology, ample evidence was  accumulating that the horseless carriages were on the verge of becoming extremely useful.

Winnipeggers Daniel H. Bain and J.K. McCulloch showed that automobiles could become a practical means of touring the province. On May 23, 1903, the Telegram reported McCoulloch travelled to Selkirk, a distance of 38 kilometres (24 miles), in an hour and 55 minutes, while Bain went to Rosser “without a single stop or the slightest mishap.”

The newspaper said the two “enthusiastic automobilists sped out in their machines to the rural districts and for the first time in all the years of Manitoba the prairie lands outlaying a score and more miles from the capital municipality, bore on their bosom the most modern vehicle of the age — and automobiling in Western Canada had advanced another stride in its already rapid progress.”

When Bain and McCulloch made their epic trip to Selkirk, there were only 19 automobiles in Winnipeg, which the Telegram listed as:

• Daniel Bain, a gasoline surrey.

• Winnipeg Mayor John Arbuthnot (1901-03), gasoline runabout.

• W.C. Power, light gasoline touring car.

• Prof. Edgar B. Kendrick (sometime spelled Kenrick), a natural scientist at  St. John’s College, gasoline runabout.

• Dr. W. Webster, gasoline runabout.

• H.D. McLoughlin, gasoline runabout.

• J.K. McCulloch, gasoline runabout.

• Norman Davidson, gasoline runabout.

• August Lion, gasoline runabout.

• John Erzinger, gasoline runabout.

• S. Thorne, two gasoline runabouts.

• Canada Motor Co., two gasoline runabouts and two steam touring cars.

• R.J. McKenzie, steam runabout.

• A.H. Mason, steam runabout.

• E.L. Drewry, electric runabout.

According to reports from the era, approximately $200 was the lowest cost for a car, while others ran from $600 to $950. 

In the early 1900s, literally thousands of automobile makers sprang up, though few survived to build more than a few vehicles — production from multiple car makers was reflected in the 40 varieties of automobiles in Winnipeg by 1906.

Kendrick (1863-1905) is noted for bringing the first horseless carriage to Winnipeg, a one-cylinder, six-horse-power, air-cooled engine, three-wheeled Knox automobile, although there are conflicting views as to when this occurred. Various accounts say he purchased the vehicle in either 1898 or 1899, while others say 1900 or 1901. It seems most likely that the first car arrived in Winnipeg in 1900. 

The Knox Automobile Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, did not come into existence until 1899. In its first year of production only a handful of cars were built. In 1900, just 15 were built while 100 were produced a year later, making it extremely difficult for any “automobilist” to acquire a car from the factory. How Kendrick was able to afford or arrange the purchase of a Knox automobile is not known. 

An article in the May 23, 1903, Telegram said “the seed of the inauguration of the automobile in Winnipeg was sown in 1900. In the opening year of the twentieth century a globe-trotter arrived in the city with a motor cycle (Kendrick’s three-wheeler was a form of motorized cycle and he did travel extensively), on which he followed his peregrinations (travels) as much as possible. The seed fell on good soil, for not a twelvemonth had passed before Winnipeggers had placed orders for machines, and in May 1901 the steam runabouts of R.J. McKenzie and A.H. Mason’s mobile of the same type were received and began their nervous chug-chug along the length of Main Street and across the avenues, while the old oxen of Fort Garry memories mildly gazed on the future successor of their successor, the horse.”

The newspaper said several automobiles were in operation in the summer of 1902, but the majority then in use had arrived in either the fall of 1902 or the spring of 1903.

“Since then (1900) the ‘auto’ has steadily and ever more rapidly found Winnipeggers as admirers, later as supporters, and finally advocates.”

Winnipeg could be termed a hot bed of automobile enthusiasts as the city had 19 of the 178 cars registered in all of Canada in 1903. Only Toronto, where 100 autos were sold in the spring of 1903, had more cars than Winnipeg. Further west there were judged to be at least three cars in existence.

“And incidentally it was peculiarly unaccountable with what complacency the new vehicles were received by Winnipeggers — so strikingly different from the attitudes of citizens in other parts, who at first stared or gazed at the machines, which seemed so ready yet so inhumanely alive in their panting vibrations, eagle speed, and quiet, graceful evolutions, responding so readily to the control of the chauffeur.”

Winnipeggers crossing a street were said to make sure they had at least 20 feet (about six metres) clearance between themselves and an automobile, while only three or four feet (about a metre) of clearance was needed when a horse and carriage approached. Actually, it was reported that an approaching automobile caused Winnipeggers to generally take to a sidewalk rather than challenge a vehicle.

Widespread fear of automobiles resulted in a British law requiring someone to walk ahead of a vehicle waving a red flag to herald its approach. The law ensured that cars could go no faster than three or four mph — not a good method for demonstrating the “eagle speed” of the new mode of transportation.

There was a movement to have the British law adopted in Canada, but Canadian “automobilists” lobbied governments to follow the American lead and not unduly restrict automobiles which could result in dampening local vehicle production.  

Winnipegger Lion had already produced his own vehicle and engine in his chocolate factory on Fort Street after several years of experimentation. 

Thorne assembled both of his gasoline-powered vehicles, while Kendrick used his “ingenuity and technical knowledge” to improve his automobile.

“And others have spent much time in experimenting on their machines, all of which tends to create interest among their friends and thus aids in spreading the gospel of the automobile and strengthening its bright future.”

The role of cars and the rights of motorists in Manitoba was being defined in the courts. In 1904, Police  Magistrate Thomas Daly helped the automobile cause by ruling that cars could park curbside in the city. 

The Telegram said on June 9, 1904, the first battle between horse and horseless carriage had gone to the automobile. “Willie chauffeur is the Choo-Choo champion of the world, while Tommie Horseman is the world’s champion in the four-footed class. Neither contestant was giving away any weight when they stepped into the ring at police court yesterday morning, and edged to the centre when Magistrate Daly, who acted as referee, gave them orders.”

In court, the horsemen claimed the “noisy autos frightened their horses, and have caused them no end of inconvenience.” The horsemen said automobiles had caused many horses to bolt in fear, although frequent newspaper articles on the subject of runaways indicated fleeing horses spooked by other sources were a common occurrence well before automobiles arrived on the scene.

The Winnipeg court case was precipitated by a car owned by Fred Grundy parked in front of his Vaughan Street home and then covered by a white tarp to protect it from rain. Two policemen said the white apparition caused their horses to shy, while rig drivers reported their horses had also been spooked.

Grundy argued in court that his stationary auto presented no obstruction to traffic and that car owners had the same right to park at curbside as owners of other non-motorized vehicles. Magistrate Daly agreed and said it was the white covering over the machine, not the machine itself, which caused the horses to shy away. But the magistrate did find Grundy guilty of a bylaw infraction for using a white cover and issued a nominal fine of $1.

In the early 1900s different types of motorized vehicles were common. Bain’s surrey weighed 2,000 pounds, was equipped with a nine-hp motor, had a “forward” speed of 30 mph and a “reverse” speed of four to 15 mph — its weight and speed as well as its ability to seat six people made the auto unique in Winnipeg. Generally, the runabouts and touring cars in the city were between 1,000 and 1,100 pounds and had a top speed of between 20 and 25 mph.

Speed was also affected by the quality of rural roads, which explains why it took nearly two hours for McCulloch to travel to Selkirk. While some city streets were suitable for cars, Kendrick, who was noted for frequently writing to the Horseless Age, a New York publication, said local drivers preferred touring during the winter over the summer.

“We Winnipeggers are unfortunately cursed with the worst quality of greasy, sticky mud, which, though said to be desirable from an agricultural standpoint, renders the roads, after rain, simply abominable from the point of view of the owners of any type of wheeled vehicle. On the other hand, we have comparatively little snow here in winter, and winter thaws being rare, the average condition of the roads is better in winter than in summer ...

“To my mind the enjoyment to be had from the use of the motor carriage in winter is very much increased by the entire absence of dust and dirt,” he added.

Whatever the quality of roads, Winnipeg enthusiasts soon organized themselves into the province’s first auto club. When formed in 1904, the Winnipeg Automobile Club boasted 14 members and was the first of its type in Canada. The club’s mandate was to make travelling by car easier, safer and more enjoyable, as well as to protect the rights of motorists.

A.C. “Ace” Emmett, the first secretary and managing director of the club, took it upon himself to promote automobile use in Western Canada, encouraging the creation of new clubs in Saskatchewan and Alberta.  During his 40-year career — he retired in 1954 — Emmett became known as “Mr. Manitoba Motor League” and “Mr. Highways to Manitobans.”

The first outing organized by the Winnipeg club in 1904 was a return trip from Winnipeg to Silver Heights. The starting point of the cross-country run — at the time Silver Heights was outside the city’s boundary in the country — was Mayor Arbuthnot’s residence at Armstrong Point.

Another road trip on a Sunday afternoon in June 1904 by “a party of prominent Winnipeg citizens” ended abruptly 10 kilometres (six miles) north of Stonewall. While on the return trip to Winnipeg, a member of the party  mistook the gas tank opening for the radiator opening. Water in the gas tank brought the vehicle to a sputtering stop and they didn’t reach Winnipeg until 10 o’clock the following morning. 

“... It is rumoured that three of the party are now willing to pay for mechanical lessons to be given to the fourth by a practical automobilist,” reported the Telegram.

Meanwhile, W.C. Power of the Canada Cycle and Motor Company, used his touring car for a trip from Winnipeg to Portage la Prairie in the same month, starting out in the morning and arriving in the afternoon “without mishap.”

The “motor” was gaining such popularity that auto racing was featured for the first time at the 1904 Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition. The exhibition grounds, immediately north of the CPR’s Weston Yards, featured a track in front of the grandstand that was used for horse and car races. 

In 1904, “automobile trials” resulted in “wonderful speed.” In the five-mile trial, Jack McCullough 

negotiated the track in a time of eight minutes and 20 seconds, an average of 36 mph or nearly 58 km/h. 

McCullough also won a race against Jimmy Boswell, covering two miles 

in a time of five minutes and 15 


In 1905, Joseph Maw, a local automobile enthusiast, won the exhibition’s five-mile race in a time of eight minutes and 21 seconds in a Marion four-cylinder, air-cooled car.

Two years later Maw completed 

the city’s first dedicated automobile garage which could service up to 145 cars, well above the number of automobiles then existing in Winnipeg. 

Town Topics on June 29, 1907, called the Maw Garage at 114 King St. “beyond doubt, the largest automobile floor on the continent in which there are no posts” and “equipped with the best that money can procure in the way of machinery of all kinds, and lathes and appliances for repairing” and servicing cars. The building was supported by steel girders and trusses with walls of brick, concrete and stone. The front on King Street was finished with plate glass.

By 1908, there were over 100 vehicles in Winnipeg, which prompted the provincial government to pass the Motor Vehicle Act which made automobile registration mandatory.

A.H. Carroll (MLA South Brandon) told the legislature that the law was necessary to protect the public from the recklessness of automobile owners and operators.

“Why should they literally run roughshod over all who stand in their path?” he rhetorically asked. 

He said the province had been allowing “incapable persons to attempt to run machines so menacing to public safety on the roads and streets, endangering countless lives ...”

The Brandon MLA spoke on behalf of a constituent, who while delivering wheat to an elevator, had his horse team spooked by a motorist. The horses ran off, tipping his wagon and spilling a better part of its load on the road. Carroll said the people in the car didn’t stop to help the farmer but sped off laughing at his plight.

Another report at the time of the bill’s passage said a farmer expressed the opinion that country roads were established for “plodding oxen” with the instinct to find the winding trail during a blizzard, and without the oxen’s resourceful nature many people would perish during winter storms. 

The arguments against motorized vehicles covered the spectrum and included calls for the preservation of freedoms that the nation’s “forefathers had fought for,” as well as “protection from those crazy mens’ cars.”

Carroll told the legislature that so many accidents had occurred that “mothers of little children live in daily dread of having their wee sons or daughters brought home hurt or perhaps lifeless through the carelessness, stupidity or even common brutality of (car drivers).”

Despite his criticisms, Carroll said he wasn’t an automobile foe; after all, he intended to purchase a horseless carriage as soon as he raised enough money. What he objected to was some newcomer in his automobile driving a “pioneer of the country” off the road.

While the arguments for the bill were successful, the arguments against the automobile were futile — it was a technology rapidly overtaking an era that had seen its day in the limelight.